Daryl PerryFor Mitzpeh@starylize

Cheesecake is a popular dessert eaten on Shavuot. Shavuot was celebrated from May 16-18 this year, which fell during finals week at this university. Photo courtesy of Flickr.

This year, students and organizations celebrated Shavuot differently, not only due to COVID-19, but also because the holiday fell during finals week.

Shavuot, which occurs seven weeks after Passover, was May 16-18.

“It is the Jewish holiday where we celebrate getting the Bible from G-d,” said Shana Lowenstein, a sophomore letters and sciences major and president of this university’s Orthodox Jewish student group, Kedma.

“We count something called Sefirat HaOmer for the seven weeks…. Usually, [Shavuot is] at the end of May and so no one’s on campus and we never really celebrate it here,” said Meira Kidorf, a freshman general biology major and the education chair of Kedma.

Since Shavuot fell during finals week, a lot of the Jewish community was still on campus, which allowed them to celebrate the holiday together, according to Kidorf.

Kedma hosted an all-night learning event, from 11:30 p.m. on May 16 to 5:30 a.m on May 17, to celebrate the holiday.

“Because the Torah was given on Shavuot, we have this custom to learn Torah all night in preparation of accepting the Torah,” Kidorf said.

Kedma’s event was held both indoors and outdoors at the Hillel, following this university’s and Prince George’s County’s guidelines with face masks and social distancing.

The event started off with a Torah Dash, where ten students gave a talk on each of the Ten Commandments. Then, around every 45 minutes, there were different shiurim (Torah classes) taught by students on various topics, said Kidorf. One class was about the custom of decorating the house with flowers.

“They look up sources [in] the Torah, and they come up with this whole class to teach by themselves,” Kidorf said. “It’s very cool that they were able to come up with these classes by themselves, and they want to teach a nice topic to the community.”

There was food and singing in the middle of the night between classes. At 5:30 a.m., the event ended with prayer services, Lowenstein said.

Rabbi Ari Israel, executive director of this university’s Hillel, said in an email what the organization planned for the holiday.

The Hillel hosted “all night Jewish learning opportunities with food and snacks, primarily taught by student leaders – peer to peer learning – as well as prayer services and festive meals throughout the holiday and also recognizing that it is finals,” said Rabbi Israel.

It is unique that the holiday occurred simultaneously with finals week in addition to the pandemic. Lowenstein acknowledged the pandemic’s impact on the community.

“We’re just trying to bring back as much as normalcy as possible within the guidelines because we know that it has been hard having everything on Zoom and everything on your computer screen,” Lowenstein said.

During a typical year, there are numerous opportunities for the Jewish community to gather on campus, and the community connection is special, according to Kidorf.

“We’re such a tight-knit community and it was so helpful. Even through COVID, where we couldn’t actually gather together, it still felt like you had a community, you have people to rely on,” Kidorf said.

Although the pandemic has greatly impacted holidays and other aspects of life, students are still able to come together and enthusiastically celebrate Shavuot, receiving the Torah.


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